Producer and screenwriter Fisher debuts as a memoirist of first rank with his moving and unsparing story about growing up an African-American ward of the state in Cleveland in the 1960s and ’70s.
A foster child from day one—Fisher was born in prison to a single mother, and his father was shot and killed by another girlfriend—the author came to live with the Pickett family, an older couple with grown children who boarded other foster children primarily for financial gain. Subjected to routine physical and emotional abuse by Mrs. Pickett (and sexual abuse by a neighbor), “Fish,” as he was called, coped by keeping his thoughts and feelings hidden and living for the brief, unexpected moments of kindness and understanding from teachers and social workers. Deeply shy and lacking self-esteem, he escaped the foster-care system just before his 18th birthday, only to face the harsh reality of homelessness. It was not until he enlisted in the Navy that Fish learned to trust himself and others, to experience friendship and love; he even gained the courage to revisit his childhood home and find the extended family he had never known. While in the service Fish also discovered that he had a gift with words—and it is precisely this talent that breathes pleasure into what could be an unremittingly depressing tale. His observations about the changing neighborhoods of Cleveland or the just-out-of-reach efforts of those who tried to help are rendered keenly and poignantly, and his superb narrative choices and control bring the grim realities (as well as interior emotional pivots) of his life into sharp relief.
A striking and original story of the journey from troubled childhood to self-aware adult, Fisher’s account strikes the universal chords so often missing from contemporary memoir.